Serena Williams, US Open 2214

This is a guest post by Margaret

The Open already felt … uncertain, since one of my favorites couldn’t defend his championship.

An American attending an American tournament, when much had been made of the steadily vanishing number of Americans in the Men’s Singles Draw, I wondered if the tournament’s “big story” would be a victory for American players in Women’s Singles (Serena), Men’s Doubles (the Bryans, gunning for their 100th title), and Mixed Doubles (this is when Taylor (Townsend) and Donald (Young) had reached the quarters, but not yet lost in them) … even in the face of the American men seemingly unable to manage it.

Then Taylor and Donald lost.

And I reverted to having no clue what the “story” might be.

I heard Darth Vader’s Theme adapted to “Darth Federer’s Theme” at the US Open in 2007, its presence underscoring Roger’s relentless march through the draw like it did the original Vader’s stalking and sweeping through The Empire Strikes Back.

That theme followed the (alleged) Darth Fed’s come-from-behind 5-setter against Gael Monfils in those … quarterfinals … this year.

It sounded ominous to me, placed there. And not in a good way.

I wanted to call up the US Open DJ from outside of New York City where I was, and cry “Too soon! Too soon!” as many times as it took for him to shut it off.

We all know how that turned out.

But we didn’t know it when Roger took the court, guided – many would argue, to much-improved results over recent months – by his once-idol, to square off against another man with a score to settle with his sport who was also guided by his once idol … another variation on the “new story”, the theme of the once-kings positioning their new champions, near-champions, or renewed champions like chess pieces, the tight struggle for first-time crowns, or repeat crowns, or to create them kings above all (yes, Roger – please come back. We know you will play as long as we watch, and we will watch as long as you play. One more. Encore. Just one more).

I listened to a clip of Bud Collins commenting on the variety of Johnny Mac’s game, and another clip of Steve Tignor talking about how that one-handed backhand in combination with a frequent net approach in the modern game brought the upside to a player of so much more variety in his or her game at the same time that it brought the downside of much more risk.

I had the great good fortune to spend time with the Mens Champions Doubles Teams of McEnroe/McEnroe and Cash/Martin to witness exactly what Mr. Collins meant (yes, JMac fans, he’s still got it :-)).

Cash/Martin vs McEnroe/McEnroe

The ladies played on Ashe on their historic Championship Sunday. And I got to see them. In that same clip, Mr. Collins talked about Mr. Ashe’s enormous influence on tennis for the good, extending down to what he felt was an inspirational influence for the Williams sisters, both of whom serve now in an inspirational role for a new generation of athletes, and one of whom was looking to put another layer of historic lustre on that influence – if she could get past the Women’s Winner of the US Open 2014 Sportsmanship Award, who was looking for her historic first Slam title.

That – that I couldn’t know, in any match, whose strategy would prevail, whose backhand would prove more devastating, whose legs would last – was, through every match, what kept me pasted in front of any screen I could see it on for the duration of the time I couldn’t be there in person like I annually scrambled to set aside the time to do.

As we take a breath between the great Grand Slams, and warm up for the Davis Cup – we know what the stories are, already, for each of the personalities we follow.

We just don’t know how this chapter of them is going to come out.

And that is why we watch.

Marin Cilic

One week before the start of the US Open, I did attend the Optima Open, the Belgian stop of the ATP Champions Tour. Goran Ivanisevic was taking part to the tournament, and after his match against Pat Cash, he talked a bit about his protege Marin Cilic, said Cilic was playing really well and that he had high expectations for the US Open. I thought, well we gonna have a Djokovic-Federer final, and Cilic could maybe reach the last eight.

I’ve watched Cilic live more than once (at practice with Djokovic, Ivanisevic and Becker at Roland Garros this year, at Bercy last year after his doping ban, at Roland Garros in 2012) and never thought he could be one day a Grand Slam champ: too nonchalant, lack of focus, one-dimensional playing style… How wrong I was.

As for Nishikori, I’ve watched him playing twice at Bercy last year (against Benneteau and Tsonga), and at practice with Michael Chang at Roland Garros this year.
Nishikori is a player I enjoy watching: quick feet, good hands but he clearly lacks power and is sometimes too naive in his shots’ selection.

Cilic and Nishikori met in the final on Monday and the match was even more one-sided than the Williams-Wozniacki final the day before. Nishikori was paralyzed with nerves, whereas Cilic was ready to jump on the opportunity to capture a Slam, and became the unlikeliest winner of a men’s Grand Slam title in a decade, as New York Times wrote.

What did you think of the final? Do you think Cilic will be a one Slam wonder or this major win will be first of many? What about Nishikori, will he bounced back? Please share your thoughts.

Here some pictures of the final:

US Open 2014 Kei Nishikori vs. Marin Cilic final matchup

US Open 2014 Kei Nishikori vs. Marin Cilic final matchup

US Open 2014 Kei Nishikori vs. Marin Cilic final matchup
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2014 US Open champion Serena Williams

Enjoy these exclusive pictures of Serena Williams 6-3 6-3 victory over Caroline Wozniacki in the 2014 US Open final:

Williams vs Wozniacki

Williams vs Wozniacki

Williams vs Wozniacki

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John McEnroe

Enjoy these exclusive pictures of Pat Cash and Todd Martin win over the McEnroe brothers in the Men’s Champions Doubles final:

Cash/Martin vs McEnroe/McEnroe

Cash/Martin vs McEnroe/McEnroe

Cash/Martin vs McEnroe/McEnroe

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Kei Nishikori
Kei Nishikori’s road to the final
Round Opponent Score
R1 Wayne Odesnik 6-2 6-4 6-2
R2 Pablo Andujar 6-4 6-1 ret
R3 Leonardo Mayer 6-4 6-2 6-3
R4 Milos Raonic 4-6 7-6 6-7 7-5 6-4
QF Stan Wawrinka 3-6 7-5 7-6 6-7 6-4
SF Novak Djokovic 6-4 1-6 7-6 6-3
Marin Cilic’s road to the final
Round Opponent Score
R1 Marcos Baghdatis 6-3 3-1 ret
R2 Illya Marchenko 7-6 6-2 6-4
R3 Kevin Anderson 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4
R4 Gilles Simon 5-7 7-6 6-4 3-6 6-3
QF Tomas Berdych 6-2 6-4 7-6
SF Roger Federer 6-3 6-4 6-4
Kei Nishikori – Marin Cilic head to head
Year Tournament Surface Winner Score
2014 Barcelona QF Clay Kei Nishikori 6-1 6-3
2014 Brisbane QF Hard Kei Nishikori 6-4 5-7 6-2
2013 Memphis QF Hard Kei Nishikori 6-4 6-2
2012 US Open R32 Hard Marin Cilic 6-3 6-4 6-7 6-3
2011 Chennai R32 Hard Kei Nishikori 4-6 7-6 6-2
2010 US Open R64 Hard Kei Nishikori 5-7 7-6 3-6 7-6 6-1
2008 Indian Wells R128 Hard Marin Cilic 6-2 6-4

Who do you think will win, Nishikori or Cilic? One thing is sure: a new Grand Slam champ will be crowned.